September 7, 2018


Social media has made school children more fashion conscious than ever – and parents are footing the bill.

Having the right rucksack matters in the playground.

New pencil cases, shoes, bags and coats might line the classrooms, but for many parents, the additional financial strain associated with sending their teenagers back to school can be significant.

According to reports by The Children’s Society, families with children at secondary school pay, on average, more than £300 per child every year in school uniform costs. A 2015 government report found a fifth of low income parents have suffered financial hardship from having to purchase school uniforms. This figure was lower where parents were able to purchase the uniform from anywhere (such as supermarkets) – rather than specific school uniform shops.

But most schools require pupils to wear a uniform branded with the school emblem rather than generic pieces – and this can further increase the cost. This is despite the government pledging to lower school uniform costs.

The right brands

But additional school paraphernalia is not as strictly controlled by schools or the government. And many teenagers want a long list of branded items – from shoes, bags and mobile phones to the crisps in their lunchbox.

Consumerism is entering the playground and placing further pressure on already stretched parents. Research shows consumerism is an intrinsic part of human nature. And many teenagers perceive possessions as symbols of their identity – making judgements about their peers based on the brands they choose.

Teenagers want to belong, and brands help them do this.

The same research has also shown that consumerism acts as a coping mechanism in situations where an individual experiences feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity. The teenage years are rife with physical and emotional changes, which amplify these feelings. And brands can allow teenagers to forge their identity at a turbulent time when they are transitioning into adulthood and establishing who they are.

Material happiness

Some teenagers associate consuming the “right” brands with achieving happiness and peer approval. But research shows that consumerism negatively correlates to overall life satisfaction. In this way, then, the need for constant peer comparison and approval can negatively impact teenager well-being – particularly self-esteem.

It has been suggested that a societal shift among younger generations towards extrinsic goals – which relate to the need to acquire material possessions and peer acceptance over intrinsic goals that link to personal development and self acceptance – have led to an increase in consumerism.

This creates a situation where teenagers place greater emphasis on money, possessions and status over personal growth and relationships. As well as pressure for teenagers to consume and gain peer acceptance. This has been linked to the rise in teenager anxiety, particularly among girls.

Vicious cycle

My research finds members of younger generations struggle to escape consumerism. Many feel an inherent need to consume the “right” brands to gain a sense of belonging to a particular peer group. The “right” brand is considered to be a brand that allows the teenager to portray a desirable image of who they are or who they aspire to be to the world.

Many adults I spoke to as part of my research even vividly recalled instances in their teenage years when they had been bullied at school for being associated with the wrong brand. This included having a brand of mobile phone their peers considered to be cheap, and wearing unbranded trainers for PE. These experiences led to a greater emphasis being placed on certain brands in the transition from teenager to adult to avoid negative feelings associated with the “wrong” brand.

Teenagers make judgements about their peers based on the brands they choose.

Social media can also exacerbate this need to consume and have the “right” brands – with many peers and online influencers posting glossier versions (or even complete fabrications) of reality. Social media also allows for constant social comparison. This can increase the need for teenagers to keep up with their peers to avoid scrutiny – which creates a vicious cycle. This makes it difficult for teenagers to step back and differentiate the idealised self image their peers portray online from reality, and so they feel pressure to follow suit.

School pressures

In the UK, more than 4m children live in poverty. And research shows
the impact of consumerism on teenagers is greater for those from lower income families.

These teenagers can be more susceptible to peer influence. They may use brands to emulate an image of a richer counterpart to avoid being teased for being poor. This helps them to achieve and maintain social acceptance, while reducing feelings of personal inadequacy and anxiety.

It’s clear that at school having a particular brand can mean the difference between popularity and rejection. To tackle this, the government should look to place a cap on the amount schools are able to charge for branded uniforms. Schools could also help by ensuring items such as school bags and shoes are generic and unbranded to help reduce some of the pressure on parents and teenagers alike.The Conversation

Emily Moorlock, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Sheffield Hallam University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • Social media has a lot to answer for – it was far more easy in the old days.


  • Social media has a lot to answer for. I hope my children do not want online accounts when they are older


  • The ‘right brands’ were a huge issue before social media. It was a nightmare being poor when I was at school. If my son wants more than the basics then I hope he’s motivated to get a job.

    • Teaching kids to work for what they want when they are old enough to work is a very valuable life lesson.


  • Ultimately the decision about purchases is with parents and discussion about consumerism with children is essential.


  • We don’t join this movement. Where possible I buy second hand school uniforms, good in size so it covers several years and they can grow into it. Additionally I buy sport shorts, shorts and leggings at Kmart and often the school shoes as well. I bought my kids last year a good quality backpack, they were talking about a new one, but they’ll have to do some more years with this one. They get pocket money, if they want to buy more fancy brands of clothing items, they can safe up and do so.


  • I agree the uniform needs to be cheaper as it is so expensive yet compulsory.


  • Thankfully here the school uniforms are all the same and shoes have to be a certain type. I always go the cheapest options for other things but with the input from my 2 oldest. As for mobiles, they got the cheapest prepaid no buts


  • It’s hard because no one wants their child to feel different or left out.


  • Some schools have Logos on ALL parts of their uniform and can only be bought from the School Uniform Shop. Some accept second hand ones from parents when children either grow out of them or leave the school. Some schools give the parents who hand them in a portion of the money they receive for them. The uniforms must be in perfect condition – not the tiniest little mark on it – not even a tiny spot similar to the colour of the uniform. I was shown a dress that was rejected and knew why. I really had to look for the mark it was so tiny. At one school the boys’ pants are very poor material and last very little time. Many of the parents have lodged complaints. They have compulsory logos on them so parents can’t buy the same colour from elsewhere. You are very fortunate if 2 pairs of pants last a term even in Winter when the boys don’t play outside. I know one who prefers to read books and his pants already have holes in them. Parents cannot afford to be buying 2 or 3 new pairs of pants per term because of holes – not even made through bad behaviour or sports.


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